Family Road Tripping in a Muscle Car Is More Fun Than an SUV

Give me a 6.2-liter supercharged V8 and an open road. I’ll pack light.

byKristin V. Shaw|
gray car in front of red pecan factory
Kristin Shaw

Cars have been steadily getting bigger and bigger, and SUVs have been growing in popularity over the last several years. Even Lamborghini, Aston Martin, and Bentley are into the SUV craze; the Raging Bull’s Urus is outselling all of its other models at this point. If you’re taking your family on a road trip, taking an SUV means lots of leg room for everyone, and you can bring 100 stuffed animals if you want to. Heck, during the first summer of the pandemic, we loaded up a truckload of toys and drove from Texas to Indiana to stay with my parents for a month.

But I’m telling you, if you refrain from overpacking and roll with a minimal approach, the benefits of driving a muscle car on the open road beat the comfort of an SUV. Passing slow vehicles on a two-lane road is a thrilling interlude, bolstered seats make up for massaging functions, and who needs back-of-the-seat screens when you can bring your own iPad, anyway?

Kristin Shaw

This weekend, I had the rare pleasure of piloting a 2022 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Widebody, and just typing that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up in anticipation. It’s my father-in-law’s birthday today, so we decided to make the three-and-a-half hour drive from Austin to San Angelo to celebrate. We could have taken our slightly-worn 2013 Land Rover LR4, but I convinced the family that taking the Hellcat would be fun. Full disclosure: they weren't all in, at first.

First, we had to plan what to pack and how to pack it, Tetris style. The first priority when heading out to west Texas is the iced-down Yeti cooler because the forecast was calling for blazing sun and 104 degrees. To our surprise, the Yeti fit with plenty of room to spare. The only challenge was picking it up and over the trunk lip, but we called it our arm workout for the day and carried on. Around the Yeti we fit a duffel bag, a full-size roll-aboard suitcase, one pair of snake boots, our fly-fishing equipment, my laptop bag, and a large grocery sack filled with our favorite cereals and snacks in 16 cubic feet of cargo space. And we still had room in the back seat for a couple of stuffed animals, a pillow, and a sack lunch for each of us.

The view from the back seat is somewhat limited due to the giant C-pillar, so I can’t really ask my 12-year-old kid to stare out the window. But we can talk, and once the engine spools up and the supercharger ceases to whine with the urgency of acceleration we can actually hear each other. Meanwhile, the volume and channel controls behind the steering wheel made it easy for me to control the playlist. And at every place we stopped along the way someone would say, "Cool car" or a variation of that.

Listen, there are a few limitations when it comes to space. I can tell you from experience that a family of three fits perfectly in a Challenger because my son can sit behind me. But if someone had to sit behind my six-foot-tall husband, their legs would be squished. On the other hand, we had everything we needed: heated and ventilated front seats, a more-generous-than-expected cargo area, simulated suede surfaces, and a banging Harman Kardon audio system.

And most importantly, a 6.2-liter supercharged, intercooled engine that thunders and screams with the sound of the last of the V8s. It was made for cruising on 75 mph Texas roads. When I accelerated to pass an SUV on highway 87, I let out a yelp of pleasure; driving the distance reminded me how much fun it is to take a beast out for a walk instead of a perfectly-groomed poodle.

Get into a Hellcat and take a ride while you can, because they won't be around much longer. Overpacking is overrated when it comes to luggage, anyway. Give me an engine overpacked with 717 horsepower any day.

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